SpaceX Demo-2 Capsule on Its Way to KSC

SpaceX Demo-2 Capsule on Its Way to KSC

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that soon will send two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on a test flight is on its way to Kennedy Space Center (KSC). KSC Director Bob Cabana confirmed earlier this week that the launch is expected in the second quarter of this year, which begins in April.

Today, SpaceX tweeted a photo of the spacecraft surrounded by SpaceX employees before it left the factory in Hawthorne, CA.

During a media teleconference on Monday about the FY2021 budget request, Cabana said that flying the commercial crew missions this year is a “top priority for the first part of this year. … We’re going to make that happen.”

Although there is “a lot of work to do,” he is “confident we will be able to eventually certify” both SpaceX and Boeing for crewed flights this year.  “Right now it looks like SpaceX will be ready towards the end of the first quarter and flying in the second quarter of this year.”

Boeing and SpaceX are developing crew space transportation systems to ferry crews to and from the ISS as Public-Private Partnerships with NASA.  Each company must fly uncrewed and then crewed test flights to the ISS as part of the certification process.

SpaceX completed its uncrewed test flight, Demo-1, in March 2019 and an In-Flight Abort test last month, the final major milestone before the crew test flight can take place.  SpaceX Crew Dragon launches take place from KSC’s Launch Complex 39A, which it leases from NASA.

Boeing’s uncrewed test flight of its Starliner capsule in December encountered anomalies that are still being investigated.  NASA is still assessing whether the uncrewed test will have to be repeated before putting astronauts on board.

Two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will fly the SpaceX crewed flight test, dubbed Demo-2. The mission is officially scheduled as a short test flight of a few days, but NASA is deciding whether to keep them aboard for a long duration mission instead.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (L) and Bob Behnken (R) at SpaceX HQ, Hawthorne, CA, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The ISS crew complement usually is six, but has been reduced to three until the commercial crew systems are flying.  Three crew members returned to Earth last week, leaving two NASA astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut on board (Meir, Morgan and Skripochka).  NASA has been purchasing seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011, but with the advent of the commercial crew systems, Russia has reduced the Soyuz production rate and only two instead of four Soyuz launches per year are planned.

NASA has a seat on the next one in April that will deliver one NASA and two Russian crew members, after which Meir and her crewmates will return to Earth.  That will leave a crew of three — Cassidy, Tikhonov and Babkin — on board.

NASA does not any have seats on future Soyuz missions although it is negotiating for one this fall and perhaps another next spring in case the commercial crew systems are further delayed.



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